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In the most comprehensive biographical study of John Purdue (c. 1802-1876) to date, Purdue's great-great-grandniece describes her travels to the diverse places where Purdue had lived in order to learn about the mysterious relative known in her family as Uncle. Using fresh, unpublished source materials-including Purdue's personal correspondence, business ledgers, and the family oral histories-the author examines Purdue's beginning among illiterate, immigrant, Pennsylvania mountain-hollow folks. Uncle challenges a commonly held belief that Purdue was a cold-hearted business mogul. Instead the author shows Purdue as a human being and as a generous family man with a visionary nature.



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Date de parution 15 juillet 2019
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781557539304
Langue English

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The Founders
My Journey with John Purdue
Irena McCammon Scott
Purdue University Press / West Lafayette, Indiana
Copyright 2008 by Purdue University. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America.
ISBN 978-1-55753-457-6
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Scott, Irena, 1942-
Uncle : my journey with John Purdue / Irena Scott.
     p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-55753-457-6 (casebound : alk. paper) -- ISBN 978-1-55753-458-3 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Purdue, John, 1802-1876. 2. Purdue University--Benefactors--Biography. I. Title.
LD4672.65.P87S38 2008
Chapter One
Pennsylvania: The “Great Path” to Exploration and Education
Chapter Two
Ohio Legends and Facts: Whisler and Marion, Ohio, and Michigan
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
1839–1850: Lafayette, Indiana
Chapter Five
The 1860s: Civic Leader, CEO, Manager, Connoisseur
Chapter Six
1860: The Walnut Grove Farm
Chapter Seven
1864–1870: Uncle’s First Gifts
Chapter Eight
1866–1870: “The Scales Fell From Our Eyes”
Chapter Nine
1870–1876: Industry, Mines, and Gutsy, High-Rolling Kings
Chapter Ten
1870–1876: Field of Dreams
Chapter Eleven
Color Plates
Special thanks to Gay McCammon, John McCammon, and Ada and Ruth Crippen—for keeping the memory of John Purdue alive; and to John Brinkerhoff, Lee Jansen, Sue Postle, and William Allen for their help and support.
The author wishes to recognize the following persons for their invaluable help with the writing: Lee Jansen; John Brinkerhoff; William Allen (Ohio State University, Professor Emeritus); Dr. John and Carolyn Starkey (Purdue University); Jim Jump, J.D.; Dr. Kathryn Ward (Franklin University, Ohio); Allan W. Eckert (author/historian); Robert Kriebel (author/historian); and Emily Foster (author/historian). The author is indebted to relatives who helped with both the research and writing: Mark Prosser, Barbara Osborn, Sue and David Postle, Jane Murrow Atherstone, Ken Powers, Ruth Martin, Purdue Williams Prosser, Laura Budd, Rayburn Irwin, Reverend Kenneth and Maryanne Prosser Price, Glynn and Dr. David Mc-Calman, Margie McCammon, Beth Ann Kenny, and Merrillyn (Freeman) Hill.
The author also wishes to especially thank: Sally Love and Mary Kay Brumbaugh (Fort Shirley Heritage Association, Pennsylvania); Nancy Shedd, Rachael Y. Black, and Jean Harshbarger (Huntingdon County Historical Society, Pennsylvania); Mr. and Mrs. Cecil Brumbaugh (Shirleysburg, Pennsylvania); Dr. Don Durnbaugh (Juniata College, Pennsylvania); George Norris (Germany Valley, Pennsylvania); Gail A. Wilson (Franklin County Engineer’s Office, Ohio); Professor H. B. Knoll (Purdue University) and his sons, David and Rich Knoll; June Haste (Lafayette, Indiana); Katherine M. Markee (Associate Professor of Library Science, Interim Head Special Collections and Archives, Purdue University); Sammie Morris (Assistant Professor of Library Science and Archivist, Acting Head of Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University); John W. Hicks (Purdue University Acting President 1982-1983); Donna Van Leer (former Author Liaison, Purdue University Press); Paul Immel and John Bittel (State Library of Ohio); Donna and John Karshner (Adelphi, Ohio, historians); Robert Bower (Pickaway County, Ohio, historian); Darlene Weaver (Pickaway County Historical Society, Ohio); Mr. and Mrs. John Saveson (New Albany Historical Society, Ohio); Mr. John Shockley and Mr. and Mrs. Clark Cubbage (New Albany, Ohio); Mr. and Mrs. Charles Davis (Blendon Township, Franklin County, Ohio); Sherie Perdue Meola (Purdue/Perdue family researcher); Beth Weinhardt (Westerville Public Library, Ohio); Ron Sharp (Indiana State Library); Toni Benson (Van Buren District Library, Michigan); Elsabeth Fridley (Peace Lutheran Church, New Albany, Ohio); Ed A. Flahive, J.D. and E. F. Flahive, J.D. (Flahive Law Office); Charles Johnson (Warren County, Indiana); Wini Clark (Williamsport Library, Indiana); Sandy Furr (Benton County Public Library, Indiana); Virginia Taylor (Benton County Historical Society, Indiana); and others, who contributed directly or indirectly to this project.
Irena Scott has written an impeccably researched biography of John Purdue that is also a chronicle of the time and place in which he lived. Purdue was such a product of the developmental period of North America that one might well see in him character traits that make up the patchwork quilt of the country he helped sew.
Purdue University is recognized as one of the world’s great centers of learning. It has nurtured fame and fortune and greatness for many of its graduates, as well as advancing the science, technology and culture of what is presently the most powerful nation in history. We owe much to its founder/benefactor John Purdue, but haven’t known many particulars about the man himself until recently.
One might wonder why the life of a founder of Purdue University should have to be searched out at all. How could someone, so much a part of the backbone of pioneer North America, be an enigma? Mainly, it has to do to a lack of adequate documentation revealing his early life. So the first task of Scott’s study of Purdue necessarily amounted to detective work.
The author’s educational background, including a doctorate in physiology, has contributed to her thorough approach in researching her great-great-granduncle’s early years. As with a human zygote, in John Purdue’s young life story there was nothing yet really manifest about the man—and what was known is fragmentary and often contradictive. Rather than quickly moving on to the more fertile field of Purdue’s middle-age success and notoriety, Scott patiently pieces together a mosaic of early Purduvian information—tiny pieces that sometimes fit together loosely and incompletely. She corrects many bits of historical misinformation. When the author had little to go by, she sometimes used reasonable conjecture to good advantage.
Also, with impressive insight into the conundrum of human temperament, Scott managed to give us enough personal complexity about Purdue to allow a kind of tantalizing subtext to emerge—one which could enable some incisive reader to fill in, for example, certain shades and nuisance of character that may be suspected but not provable. At times there is a poignant lack of information—in letters for example—that could be read as sins of omission. Some of the material in hand suggests Purdue as perhaps having a double life. In the end, Scott’s filial bonhomie may incline her to embrace the many positive aspects of Purdue, but her investigative nature and scientific training dictate that she give equal time to his darker side.
Thus we have a sketchy, fragmentary beginning that is not absolutely certain of Purdue’s line of descent, his early education, his religion, his psychosexual proclivities, or even his whereabouts. Yet the spadework pays off. Nothing known about Purdue’s life is given short shrift, and few who read this book will come away without a strong sense of the man’s character. But we might well be cautious about reading strong conclusions between the lines. With so many mysteries, missing pieces, and a bear-baiting subtext, such judgments could actually be more revealing about the reader than John Purdue.
And so it is with all investigative work, be it by a scientist, gumshoe, coroner, or prosecuting attorney.
Of Purdue’s more visible middle age career, Scott writes: “After the Civil War, the nation underwent its greatest reorganization in history—the Reconstruction. Concepts of equal rights, freedom, and education for all, which had been dormant words on documents, now caught fire. Here in the Reconstruction period, Purdue made his greatest mark. By 1865 Purdue was an educated, cosmopolitan millionaire at the peak of health, luck, personality, and reputation.” Yet after his wealth and power dragged him into the all-too-visible center of media attention, we also come to see his public image as a mass of contradiction: full of brilliance and banality, altruism and power-mongering, a well-read semi-literate, a somewhat deep but also shallow thinker, full of sentimentality coupled with violent verbal outbursts.
In other words, John Purdue finally emerges as a three-dimensional human being, warts and all, a bit like some people we might know. So how was it that he came to accomplish so much more than most? Scott shows us that he did it through sound, innovative business practices, fair play, frugality, indomitable will over others, what amounted to well over half a bachelor’s lifetime of hard single-minded Herculean work, and by doggedly pursuing his “impossible” dreams. His Yankee ingenuity was legend and so was his poker playing, says Scott. At his peak, he had become very wealthy. It was time that he begin to turn his fortune to good use, time to hand over his money to a higher cause than himself, to the greater good of all. He had always been generous and philanthropic, but his grand design to fund a major university would take virtually everything he had.
When John Purdue achieved his dream, the launching of Purdue University, he was well advanced in age, and his health and personal powers were failing. But it hardly seemed to matter. His legacy of life-long accomplishments was already in place. The triumphant establishment of the school was carried forward by Purdue’s accumulated wealth and the sheer momentum of a life hard won—born in poverty and ignorance but blessed by opportunity, spirit, ambition and productive values. John Purdue died knowing he had passed the torch of education to a future beyond even his great imagination.
William Allen
Professor Emeritus
The Ohio State University
His eyes followed me around the room. I would crawl behind the sofa or duck into the nook behind the fireplace to escape. But I couldn’t hide from those haunting eyes. No matter what I did, the man in the portrait always stared directly at me.
When I was a child, the large oil painting of John Purdue dominated the velvet-laden parlor of my great-aunt’s Victorian home in Delaware County, Ohio. From overheard conversations, I learned the name of the man in the portrait was John Purdue. I did not know then that he was the founder of Purdue University, or even that he was a relative of mine. I just knew that I wanted him to stop watching me.
My farmer parents, James and Gay McCammon, were poor and busy. My memories of life on this 1950s farm are of lambs jumping stiff-legged among the rocks and of rides on the hay wagon as Dad’s gnarled hands steadily guided our team of big white horses. And the endless work! We lacked running water, and as soon as I was old enough, it was my job to pump and carry water for the house and the animals. Life seemed exceptionally rough for women then. We were expected to marry young, to confine ourselves ever after to the domestic scene—cooking, sewing, and sweeping—and to keep quiet.
Hence, I never asked about the man in the oil painting. To me, the somber portrait of the distinguished-looking gentleman who seemed to watch over the family was a symbol of refinement and other worlds. The man in the picture became my own Great Stone Face.
The brightest spot from my long-ago days was our neighbors on this sprawling family farm. Dad’s parents lived in the home next door to us, and next to them, in the big house with the picture, lived Ada Crippen, who was my grandfather’s sister, and her daughter Ruth. Grandfather and the Crippen women differed from the other neighbors. They seemed very cultured; they lacked our farmer accent, and they had collections of books—wondrous books about what seemed like every subject in the world.
Ruth, a schoolteacher, had encouraged me to read. To teach me about the nuances of writing, we would compose letters to friends and even correspond with magazine editors. If I had followed the normal progression for that day, I soon would have married and become a farmer’s wife. However, under Ruth’s tutelage and the influence of other relatives, I began a journey that started with working my way through Ohio State University with an astronomy major. But as I finished, I found that women were not allowed even to apply for positions in which I could put my education to use. After college, I married; my new husband and I moved to Nevada, where his family then lived and where I landed a research position at the University of Nevada. Then, as careers began to open up for women, I received a fellowship offer at the University of Missouri and earned a Ph.D. in physiology. I took a postdoctoral position at Cornell University and later became an assistant professor at St. Bonaventure University. And although I still did not know who John Purdue was, I had sensed his influence.
My mentor, Ruth Crippen, died in 1974, while I was in Missouri. She left her farm—including the portrait of John Purdue—to my parents. For them, the huge house, with its labyrinthine halls filled with mirrors and pictures, winding staircases, pungent-antique odors, and hidden attics, was not only a mansion but also an old worn corridor into another time. Entranced, my mother searched every hidden cubbyhole. She found letters, papers, and pictures my family had accumulated through many generations. The letters captured the haunting and faded lives, thoughts, and dreams of residents from the farm’s past. Some had been leaders and innovators, some were involved in religious work, and all were incredibly interesting.
But one particular figure began to mesmerize my mother—John Purdue. I do not know the reason for her consuming interest in him. Mom, the daughter of a poor minister from the West Virginia mountains, had made up for her lack of childhood education by working several rough jobs at once to attend Ohio State University. She had then become a conventional and dedicated farm wife, who was active in her church. John Purdue, a free-ranging bachelor and business mogul, did not seem to be her type. Was she drawn in by the personality he exhibited in his letters? Did she feel there was something unfinished about Purdue, loose ends that needed to be tied up? Did she identify on some emotional level with the poor boy from a mountain log cabin who longed for an education? Was he the strong, cultured gentleman of her dreams?
Whatever the reasons, Mom became so engrossed with John Purdue that somehow she herself began to change. She started writing to people all across the country, looking up long-lost relatives, going to libraries, traveling, and consulting with historians. She poured over dusty courthouse records to find out everything she could about him. As she explored Purdue’s life and times, she began writing and organizing her research into lengthy documents. Soon, her writings on a variety of topics were being published in magazines, newspapers, and even books.
In 1981 Mom collaborated with my father’s cousin, Jane Murray, to research and write “The Charles and Mary Short Purdue Families.” Much of her information beyond her published material was oral, and she passed those tales on to me. My parents then decided to donate the oil painting and several boxes of Purdue’s documents—mainly deeds and old business papers—to Purdue University. To my mother’s amazement, John W. Hicks, Purdue University’s acting president from 1982 to 1983, not only accepted the material, but also spent the day showing us around campus. The October 17, 1981, Lafayette Journal and Courier article, “Portrait of Purdue Founder Donated to His Namesake,” showed a photograph of my parents handing the painting to Dr. Hicks. I have to say I was glad to see the portrait of John Purdue go. My husband and I had moved to Ohio by then, and Old Stone Face could no longer watch me every time I stepped into that parlor.
Not long afterward, an aunt who was cleaning out her attic came across an old sepia-toned photograph of John Purdue. She thoughtfully asked me if I wanted it. Initially I recoiled at the prospect of willingly going through life with John Purdue’s eyes watching me. But part of me had grown accustomed to Uncle’s gaze (the family called him Uncle, because all his siblings were females), and I was even starting to miss him a bit. I accepted the photograph.
My parents died in the mid-1990s, and several years later, I inherited the farm, which, I discovered, John Purdue had bought for my family in 1865 (four years before he brought Purdue University into existence), as well as his documents and letters. I moved into my grandparent’s house, hung Purdue’s old brown photograph in the living room, and began sorting the papers I had inherited. I put all of the John Purdue materials into a separate pile, deeming them too boring actually to read at the time.
By now, after all those years of looking at his pictures, I had finally begun to understand them. The eyes that seemed to follow me around the room were a deliberate artistic device used to create “eye contact,” intended to pull the viewer into the picture’s narrative. I no longer crawled under the furniture when I saw Purdue’s picture, of course. But one hazy evening as I walked by the photograph, I glanced up. His eyes seemed to draw me in front of him, and he finally seemed to speak to me, telling me to look at his documents. I wondered if my mother had been similarly engaged by the picture’s “narrative” before she began her obsessive search to find out all she could about him.
I started reading his letters. As I did, John Purdue stopped being a stuffy, historical figure. He became more and more human, and although I did not want to, I became more and more like my mother. Soon I was reading every word I could find about Purdue.
As I gained his acquaintance, however, Purdue’s mystique only deepened. Although his name is more internationally recognized than those of many presidents, rulers, and even rock stars, John Purdue, the man, remained almost invisible. Very little information existed about Purdue, and what had been written about him had mainly focused on his business concerns in Lafayette, Indiana. Only one biography had been published, The Midas of the Wabash , by Lafayette writer Robert Kriebel, in 2002.
John Purdue is most noted, of course, as the founding benefactor of Purdue University. He also was a shrewd businessman. The Purdue Block he established in Lafayette, for example, was once known as the country’s largest business block beyond Wall Street. During the Civil War he was one of America’s leading produce merchants. He was a founder of the city of Lafayette, Indiana, itself, and was a self-made millionaire—a multibillionaire by today’s standards. He also was noted for his remarkable integrity; Kriebel called him a visionary for whom honesty was a passion.
But I wanted to make the acquaintance of John Purdue both as a business executive and as a man. I wanted to know what transpired during the first forty years of his life before he moved to Lafayette. I also wanted to know how Purdue developed his business expertise, why he gave so much of his fortune away, and the reasons behind his strong interest in education. In addition, I wanted to hear from Purdue himself, rather than use secondary sources to convey other people’s impressions of him. However, as Kriebel’s biography mentioned, Purdue’s personality was an enigma. Neither his close friends nor his later researchers had understood him. Although studying words written in Purdue’s own hand would have helped to elucidate his personality, no actual personal writings to an identified person that he knew well had even been found.
So I focused my efforts on finding John Purdue’s actual words. And I was surprised to find many such words—in my own attic. My great-grandfather, John McCammon, had corresponded with John Purdue, his uncle, for about a quarter-century. We also had quite a collection of his business documents, because McCammon was the Purdue estate attorney who had received Purdue’s personal effects after his death in 1876. I had reams of valuable inside information about Purdue’s business ventures. McCammon had also collected letters from relatives who, like him, had worked for Purdue, and additional letters from Purdue descendants, who had come from Purdue’s Pennsylvania hometown. Our collection also included information gleaned by my mother from historical societies, newspapers, record offices, genealogies, and the Purdue University Special Collections Library.
In McCammon’s letters, Purdue wrote in a conversational, almost impressionistic style that captured his spontaneous, hands-on personality. A vibrant, complex John Purdue began to emerge from this new material. Innovative and visionary, Purdue had lived it all—from the New York high life, to a business empire extending across the Midwest, to his homey farm in the heartland. He was a strange combination of a nonconformist of burning drive and imagination, and a mogul, with a fundamentalist upbringing, who had worked ceaselessly to become wealthy, then donated to churches he never attended and ultimately gave all his fortune away. Purdue was a bachelor who loved children, treasured his family, and may have been despondent for years about a broken romance. He was a restless loner with big dreams who incessantly traveled, lived in hotels, and seemed to be forever searching for something. His generous, honest, and sensitive nature became apparent in the way he sacrificed for his family, which also gave a perspective as to why he so readily gave away his fortune.
McCammon’s documents also showed Purdue’s development as a businessman, and that his businesses were much more complicated and interesting than previously thought. He was concerned with the affairs of his family, city, and nation, and his influence extended well beyond Lafayette. He was amazingly versatile—a pioneer not only in education, but also in industry, farming, business, finance, mining, railroading, building, banking, newspapering, and politics. His story of the interplay between the new country’s nouveaux riches and old wealth was a vibrant tale of the changing social order, as was his legacy of surmounting the ensuing obstacles. He also achieved a lot more than he received credit for.
As he fled the Pennsylvania mountain hollows of his early years for a colorful new life filled with larger-than-life characters and adventures, his story also offers a window into one of the most exciting eras of American history. It is a uniquely American saga of one man’s journey from an isolated log-cabin existence to a bustling, industrialized urbanity. John’s parents, who were born before the American Revolution, took part in what was then a small exodus into the frontier. John matured and traveled with the young, growing nation as it stretched across the continent. Although the exact date of John’s birth is unknown, it roughly coincided with the 1803 Louisiana Purchase from France’s Napoleon Bonaparte and with Ohio’s birth as the Northwest Territory’s first state. By 1804 Lewis and Clark had set out to explore the unknown regions to the west.
These times heralded the beginnings of three revolutions—the American Industrial Revolution as machines replaced work done by hand, a global revolt against tyranny, and an effort to open the educational system to the masses. John Purdue had a hand in them all. He started in a remote mountain cabin by the “Great Path” to the west, followed the National Road to the frontier’s new capital in Ohio, and pushed onward, becoming a part of the frontier—a rolling wave of transformation that swept across the country and would soon revolutionize the world. He was an active participant in crucial events associated with the Civil War and Reconstruction that altered the nation’s course. His life was interwoven with the vital new country, complete with its legendary characters and amazing opportunities and achievements.

Although many “born in a log cabin” stories turn out to be fiction, Purdue’s is real. His rags-to-riches tale now seemed as interesting as any Great Gatsby or Howard Hughes story. When life had presented him with extraordinary hardships and hurdles to clear, he not only cleared them, but removed them for others. He returned his wealth to create businesses, cities, financial districts, railroads, and schools. Many were one-of-a-kind. He enriched the lives of many people. Behind a Purdue University legacy teeming with astronauts, business leaders, Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, senators, and corporation presidents is the tale of a man whose own chronicle is every bit as exciting as that of the university itself.
I began a quest for the story of the mysterious man from ignorant “mountain hollows” who played an integral role in the flourishing of American democracy and whose legacy is a monument to higher education. I wanted to know the real, hidden John Purdue—his flesh and blood feelings, his motivation, and the story of his life from beginning to end. I traveled to the places where he had lived, walked the streets, and talked to the people whose ancestors knew him. I sought the reasons why this man from the past still had such a powerful grip on me, on my family, and on American history.
Pennsylvania: The “Great Path” to Exploration and Education
On my first day in Shirleysburg, a bear sauntered across its main street right in front of me. Although most of the world has changed since John Purdue was born over two hundred years ago in a rude log cabin in the nearby woods, Shirleysburg’s sturdy old hardwood-framed homes retain its frontier nature. Ahead of me the smooth black pavement of its main street, once the first path into the vast continent’s unknown interior, curved into the primeval forests and creeping blue mists of the Pennsylvania mountains.
John Purdue had described his log cabin as being located in “Germany,” in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, and this is about all that anyone knew of the first twenty-seven years of his life. The information came from Purdue in-law Elmer Anderson, who in 1929 compiled a brief profile, “John Purdue,” based on family recollections of Purdue’s conversations.
One other remainder of Purdue’s hardscrabble Pennsylvania existence was a school copybook page, containing the sentence “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” Purdue, who would have been about eight years old, had torn out this page. Although it is a simple child’s copybook practice sentence, it expresses conflict—that appearance is not always what it seems. I wondered why this page was the only material saved from Purdue’s childhood. I also wondered whether it had been coincidentally saved, or whether the words had reflected something important in his life and Purdue had deliberately saved it.
To find out if more information even existed about Purdue, I contacted several Huntingdon County offices, and they directed me to two Fort Shirley Heritage Association historians, Sally Love and Mary Kay Brumbaugh. Both lived in Shirleysburg (population 140), the town nearest “Germany,” now called Germany Valley. Mrs. Brumbaugh, who was eighty-five years old, remembered many old stories about the area. Mrs. Love and her husband are descendants of pioneer families who, in the 1700s, settled Love Valley—a continuation of Germany Valley to the south. Both women write for local newspapers and societies. Their current project involves adding to the historical collections in the impressive log-style museum the association’s volunteers built in the town center. They told me that they could show me around, and they even had a good idea of where the Purdue log cabin once stood. Soon after I talked to them, I left for Shirleysburg.
Huntingdon County, centrally located in southern Pennsylvania, is a craggy section of the Appalachians’ primordial undulating ridges. Circuitous rivers have carved valleys between these ridges, which pioneers followed into the bewildering forest. In a forsaken spot on the western slope of the area’s Blacklog Mountain, one such pioneer would erect a log cabin, which would become the Purdue family’s home. This spot connected to the outside world through a twisting trail following a stream, Fort Run, which flowed into the Aughwick River, which in turn flowed into the wide blue Juniata River. The Juniata, named after a Native American marker called “Standing Stone,” was unique, because the trail’s segment following it was the “Great Path”—the first passageway from the eastern colonies into the unexplored continent to the west. The Juniata, whose watershed abuts the Potomac’s, is the Susquehanna River’s second-largest and most pristine tributary. People still call it the “Stream of Time” because time is said to run as slowly as this deep, brooding river through this part of one of Pennsylvania’s oldest, wildest, and most beautiful landscapes.
On a knoll surrounded by a wide valley at the Fort Run-Aughwick River confluence, once stood Fort Shirley, for which Shirleysburg is named. As soon as I arrived there, I asked the historians, “Where was John Purdue born?” A time warp seemed to drop me into the early 1800s as I drove out of Shirleysburg following historian Love northeast along the Germany Valley Road. I could scarcely believe I was gliding through the watercolor landscape of the ancient and, what seemed to me, almost mythical Germany Valley. Here two sets of my great-great-great-grandparents, Mary and Charles Purdue (John’s parents) and Christiana and Samuel McCammon, had pushed through a dense forest canopy to settle the 1700s frontier. Love said that the valley had been a German settlement. We turned off Germany Valley Road to Salt Road and arrived at the forsaken spot where, Love told me, the Purdue log cabin had stood. According to the historians, local residents had continued to call this spot “the old Purdue place” long after the Purdues had moved away. This gave me at least spoken confirmation that the Purdues had really lived there.
Purdue had described his family’s log cabin as eighteen feet by twenty feet and one story high, according to Anderson. A neighbor, who had owned the place in the 1940s, said that at that time chimney-stone rubble and rocks scattered in the rough conformation of walls indicated that an old building—probably a log cabin—had once stood there. The present owner, however, had bulldozed the rubble.
Another clue to the cabin’s location came from a 1900 article in the Purdue University yearbook, The Debris . Its anonymous author had visited Germany Valley, made observations, and combined them with spoken recollections of what John Purdue had purportedly told people. The author imagined the cabin as a low house, constructed of rudely hewn logs, containing two or possibly three rooms. The author described the remains as a few loose stones and decaying logs in an isolated clearing that was hemmed in on all sides by dense, almost impenetrable forest. The author added, “From the clearing, a narrow roadway winding in and out among the trees and boulders leads down the side of the mountain to the main road, leading to the ancient village of Shirleysburg, once a thriving place in the earlier history of our country” ( Debris 1900, 19). This roadway is today’s Germany Valley Road. It follows Fort Run (named after Fort Shirley), a swift cold mountain stream filled with speckled trout, which connected the Purdue cabin to Fort Shirley (where the McCammons had once lived).
Woods and cropland now surround the cabin site, but the bear and a large cougar still prowling the area and the deep-forested Black-log Mountain looming behind it made me feel the dense, oppressive, wildness that had been the Purdues’ world. I also sensed it in the old names—Blacklog Mountain, and to its east, Shade Mountain, named after “Shades of Death.” What drew the Purdues to this remote valley edge? Had they been refugees, seeking a place to hide? Historian Love said the family might have been there simply because it was a beautiful place. She described the sparkling spring days, when the mountainside is covered with red bud, and the fall days, when the colorful trees light the mountainside. When I drove back to the cabin’s location the next morning, I watched as blue, billowing fog fingered the mountain valleys. It must have looked like this to the Indians, whose words, Juniata, Kishacoquillas, and Tuscarora still name the area’s rivers.
John Purdue’s father, Charles, like many immigrants who appeared simply to wash up on colonial shores, seemed to have no past and faced almost insurmountable odds as he adjusted to a new land, new customs, and possibly a new language. With no resources other than his wit and ability to work, he began to scratch his roots into his new homeland’s soil.
As often happens under these circumstances, no precise documentation is available about the family. Charles’s homeland is unclear. John Purdue, in recalled conversations, said that Charles came from Scotland; however, several of John’s sisters named Ireland as Charles’s homeland. 1 Charles was born about 1756 (he was listed as under 45 in the 1800 U.S Census and over 45 in the 1810 U.S. Census). John claimed that one of Charles’s brothers fought in the Revolutionary War. 2 A man born in the mid-1700s would have been old enough to fight in this war. If they all came together, the Purdues would have immigrated before the war. Around 1790 Charles, who according to family documents lived in Maryland, married Mary (Polly) Short, who was born there, according to the 1880 U.S. Census. Because she is listed as being ninety-four years old in the 1860 Ohio census, she was born around 1766. She died three days after the census was taken. 3 The Purdues arrived in Germany Valley in 1791 or 1792, according to family documents.
In Germany Valley, one of the era’s most oppressive and lonely wildernesses, the Purdue family grew to ten children. Although John’s sisters would play an important role in his life, little more is known about them than about the Purdue parents. For example, the illiterate in the Appalachians sometimes do not know their own birth dates with any accuracy. John himself is said to have told people that he was born on Halloween, October 31, 1802. However, he must have not been altogether clear about this, because in the 1850 census of Tippecanoe County, Indiana, he gave his age as forty-five years, which would mean he was born in 1805. 4 Thus, the birth order of the Purdue children is unknown. According to the oral history, Charles and Mary Purdue had ten children. John, the only son, was somewhere in the middle. Two sisters died young, and seven sisters, Catherine, Sarah, Eliza, Margaret, Susan, Mary, and Hannah had children. (My own ancestors include three generations of the McCammon family; they descended from John Purdue’s oldest sister, Catherine, who married John McCammon.)
A manuscript that my mother and my father’s cousin, Jane Murray, wrote in 1981, “The Charles and Mary Short Purdue Families,” provides further information about the Purdue sisters, as does a book written by a McCammon relative, Glynn McCalman. Glynn and son, Dr. David McCalman, spent years interviewing people and searching historic documents. For his 1996 genealogy, McCalman, McCalmont, McCammant, McCammon, McCommon (and their kin of other names and spellings) in the United States , Glynn surveyed many early Pennsylvania records, including those of the Purdue family. The following vital statistics for the Purdue sisters are from their tombstones, and other information is from family documents and the aforementioned books: 5
• Catherine Purdue, according to McCammon family documents, was born in Shirley Township, Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, on January 14, 1793. She married John McCammon in Pennsylvania and later married a Mr. Sinkey; came to Ohio in 1865; died July 23, 1882; and is buried in the Smith Cemetery, Westerville, Ohio. (She is my great-great-grandmother.)
• Nancy Purdue was born around 1796 and is thought to have died during the journey to Ohio.
• Sarah Purdue was born around 1798. She married John Prosser in Pennsylvania; came to Ohio in 1837; later married a Mr. Roff/Rolf/Rolfe; died April 18, 1879 in Trenton Township, Delaware County, Ohio; and is buried in the cemetery in Galena, Ohio.
• Eliza Purdue was born around 1801; died September 21, 1878 in Franklin County, Ohio; and is buried in the Smith Cemetery, Westerville, Ohio.
• Margaret Purdue was born around 1802–3. She married John Haymaker in Pennsylvania in 1823; came to Ohio in 1824; later married James Beever/Beaver on June 4, 1837 in Franklin County, Ohio; died July 14, 1892 in Genoa Township, Delaware County, Ohio; and is buried in the Smith Cemetery, Westerville, Ohio.
• Susan Purdue was born November 30, 1806. She married John Thompson in Ohio on November 7, 1830; died October 21, 1892 in Delaware County, Ohio; and is buried in the Africa Cemetery, Delaware County, Ohio.
• An unnamed baby Purdue was born about 1808 and died in infancy in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.
• Mary (Molly or Polly) Purdue was born around 1810. She married John Miller on April 14, 1836 in Franklin County, Ohio; died July 18, 1893 in Franklin County, Ohio; and is buried in the Fancher Cemetery, Westerville, Ohio.
• Hannah Purdue was born around 1815. She married Joseph Keene Clark on April 24, 1833 in Franklin County, Ohio; died in 1890 in Franklin County, Ohio; and is buried in the Africa Cemetery, Delaware County, Ohio.
Now that I had the framework for John Purdue’s earliest years, the real search began. If the child is father to the man, what were the catalysts for his devotion to education, religion, and the lure of the frontier? What was the environment and background that spawned this remarkable man?
Although several Purdue University researchers have examined the Purdue family’s background, it has remained as obscure as a DaVinci Code puzzle, and some of the Purdue legends are just as intriguing. Several researchers have speculated about Purdue’s ancestry. My mother told me that Purdue was intensely interested in Napoleon; thus, some researchers thought he was French. Similarly, Purdue University Professor Horton Budd (H. B.) Knoll, who did an exhaustive study of Purdue and corresponded with my family for years, wrote to us that the Purdues could have been Norman Huguenots (French Protestants). Knoll told us that most of the Huguenots left France after the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685 and migrated to England, Ireland, and Scotland. However, Robert Topping, in his 1988 history of Purdue University, wrote that although most sources indicate that the Purdue family was English—because Charles is thought to have come from the British Isles—other sources indicate he may have been born either in Maryland or Virginia about 1765. 6
Because Charles was thought to have been an ironworker, some have speculated that he came from a family engaged in this or a similar occupation. For example, Topping speculated that Charles’s lineage might go back to William Purdue of Closworth, Sumersetshire, England, head of a widely known family of bellfounders. An epitaph on his tombstone in Limerick Cathedral says, “Here lied a bellfounder honest and true, Till the resurrection, named Purdue.” Lee Alton Absher’s “Some Early Settlers of Upper Sumner County, Tennessee” also mentioned William Purdue and the tradition that his family had been prominent bellfounders who cast many cathedral bells in Ireland and England. 7 However, no verified information is available about Charles Purdue. Edward M. Perdue, in Our Family Heritage: The Perdues of the Eastern Shore of Maryland 1563 to Present , did not know John Purdue’s lineage. Likewise, Robert Hartley Perdue, in his 1934 compilation, stated that the family’s ancestry was a mystery. 8
The only actual clue John Purdue left about his background seems to contradict the theory that he was French—he had a strong German accent. A McCammon-Purdue descendant, Rayburn Irwin, in a note to my mother, provided an insight into this accent and how it tied into the tradition of a Huguenot background:
John Purdue always spoke with a German accent, but the only thing known about his ancestors is the tradition that the family were French Huguenots or Protestants who had stopped in Scotland on the way to America. No other information [is available]. The Huguenots were persecuted in France over a period of over 200 years and scattered to every part of Europe, adapting to the new languages and often changing their name. Many went to Alsace-Lorraine and many to Prussia [the general territory which later became Germany] where the father of Frederick the Great invited them as valuable subjects and where they were a large element in Berlin. Such travels could explain the German accent. The laws in France at various times decreed death for practicing their [Protestant] religion, death for attempting to leave the country. … The Huguenots came from certain elements … skilled mechanics. … [T]he lower part of the nobility were the large element in their ranks. … The Purdues were reported as French Huguenots, who had settled in Scotland and after intermarriage with the Scotch, grew quite numerous in Scotland. …
I do not believe any other element in America has excelled the Huguenots in amassing money, passing it on in various philanthropies, [and achieving] outstanding success in many fields. A very small sample would be John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, Vassar College, Bowdoin College, Gallaudet Institute for Deaf-Mutes, Whittier, Thoreau, Audubon, Longfellow, Delano, Champlain, LaSalle, Frontenac, Cadillac, and many, many others.
If the Purdues had been Huguenots, they could have escaped to what is now Germany and lived there long enough to pick up the language. According to the Pennsylvania German Society at Kutztown, those “Pennsylvania Dutch” who were not specifically German were likely to be German-speaking Swiss or refugee French Huguenots, rather than Holland Dutch. They formed a culturally unique people and are more correctly described as the Pennsylvania Germans. Other Huguenot refugees traveled to Ireland. For example, Charles Purdon, in his 1856 article, “The Huguenot Colony of Lisburn, County of Antrim,” wrote that some of the old vestry books and parish registers gave the names Purdee and Purdue among the names of settlers. Lisburn was a large colony of Huguenot refugees who had come from Holland and retained their Dutch language for several generations. Hence, John Purdue may have acquired a German accent because some of his ancestors had lived in or near Germany, or perhaps his family had picked up the local Pennsylvania German dialect by the time he was born. This speculation is nearly all that was previously known about this Purdue family.
Additional clues to Purdue’s background, however, do exist. The documents of several branches in our Purdue family tell that the Charles Purdue family was related to a nearby Pennsylvania Purdue family. 9 Although the accuracy of this information is unverified, this family’s experiences were common to many Huguenots and could show the forces that drove Charles Purdue’s ancestors from their homeland.
Purdue family documents show that, according to a George Valentine, a Perdue/Purdue family who lived in Bellefonte, Centre County, Pennsylvania (about forty miles north of Shirleysburg), was related to our Charles Purdue family. The original spelling of the name was Perdeaux. Sara Burnside Valentine’s work, “Genealogy of the Valentine and Burnside Family from the Year 1480 to 1910,” 10 maintains that these Perdues/Purdues/Perdeaux were French Huguenots. They had been horribly persecuted in France under Louis XIV: “One of the Purdues was … martyred by fagots laid around with [?] of pitch pine and then burned. … One was burned at stake.” The family had buried its gold treasures in France and escaped to Ireland. One Purdue, Edward, had escaped from France with papers and firearms in a huge chest, but some people rifled the contents and destroyed them. He subsequently traveled to London and later to Porte Down, Ireland. It was said that the fiery Reverend John Wesley once happened to be preaching in front of Edward Purdue’s house when the crowd assaulted Wesley. Purdue pulled Wesley through a parlor window, saving his life.
Edward had three known sons: Edward, Jr., William, and Dr. John Purdue. William was killed by a cannon ball while fighting the British in the Battle of Waterloo. (Possibly John Purdue’s interest in Napoleon came from his knowledge of such activities.) 11 Edward Purdue, Jr. (born 1766), who was educated at the University of Edinburgh and became a minister in the Church of England, arrived in Maryland in 1787 and moved to Centre County, Pennsylvania, in 1800. The governor appointed him justice of the peace. The 2003 history Benner Township [of Centre County]—150 Years of Families, Forging, Farming, Fishing and Flying revealed that Dr. John Purdue (who was born in 1764 and left Belfast, Ireland, on May 21, 1792) was a physician, was listed among the delegates at the county’s Democratic convention in 1839, and served as a justice of the peace. A Purdue Cemetery, located on Purdue Mountain in the Bald Eagle Range just west of Bellefonte, Centre County, Pennsylvania, contains the headstones of brothers John and Edward Purdue. Additional notes relate that these relatives had formed a Purdue-Frederick pharmaceutical firm. Purdue Pharma L.P. and the Purdue Frederick Company are still in operation and among the country’s largest private firms. Because John Purdue’s father, Charles, is thought to have been an immigrant, and members of the Centre County family immigrated in roughly the same time period as Charles, a relationship is more likely than for families whose ancestors immigrated long ago. 12
The Purdue family could thus have been refugees who had faced many generations of displacement and hardship before Charles’s arrival in North America. A Huguenot heritage could have influenced the Purdue family’s perspective in such matters as liberty, education, and philanthropy, and caused them to identify with similarly oppressed people.
What drew John’s family to this forsaken spot on Blacklog Mountain? By some accounts, Charles Purdue rented farmland and worked at an iron smelter. I found this was quite likely, because the iron industry and farming were among the few kinds of work available there.
The valley’s original settlers had been attracted to its fertile land and rich iron deposits. Juniata iron was considered the best in America at the time, and perhaps this is what drew the Purdues to the area. The Bedford Furnace, the first iron furnace in the Juniata region, was completed about 1788 and located a few miles south of Shirleysburg on Blacklog Creek. The furnaces were supplied with a fossiliferous iron extracted from bands of ore, one of which passed just west of Blacklog Mountain. Topping, in The Book of Trustees , said that Charles had worked as a charcoal burner in a local iron smelter. Charcoal was used to fire the iron furnaces. It was made by gathering huge stacks of cordwood, encasing them with wet earth, and then setting the wood on fire. People guarded the slowly burning pits to keep the fire from breaking through. Charcoal’s reign ended when coal and coke iron-making replaced it. Blacklog Mountain is crisscrossed with old trails where the remains of some of America’s first mines, charcoal iron furnaces, charcoal pits, and forges are still visible.
John began working in this brutally hard, dirty industry when he was very young. He later said that he had been “hired out” as a twelve-year-old. The area’s first map, made in 1873, shows several buildings in the Purdue family’s location. Near the cabin site were several iron mines and a furnace to the north.
Because education and religion have a powerful molding effect on an individual, I tried to find John Purdue’s school and church and to learn something about them. Purdue had described his school as located down a rough, rocky road near the foot of Blacklog Mountain. Mary Kay Brumbaugh thought this school was probably the Dunkard School. When Sally Love had showed me around the area, I was surprised to find that remnants of this long-ago school still exist near an old rock church. The school, which was built in the early 1800s of stone and covered with stucco, reminded Mrs. Brumbaugh of an Irish cottage.
John Purdue said that he began to attend school at the age of eight. He must have been a bright, inquisitive child, because even this limited schooling opened doors to him. He had suddenly burst into the larger world and wanted to read every book he could get his hands on. Our family oral account said that John was able to further his education because his sisters worked and saved until they could pay for it. This story is quite likely true, because Von Mansberg and Booher wrote that all the schools in Shirleysburg township were funded by some form of tuition until 1834. John made rapid progress. After a few years of great industry, he pursued a calling as a teacher and became very successful in this occupation. In fact, he began teaching while still in his teens, according to Jacob Piatt Dunn. 13
Purdue’s sisters, however, appeared to be illiterate. Huntingdon County records showed that Catherine Purdue was unable to write her own name. McCammon’s documents showed that sisters Mary, Margaret, Hannah, Eliza, and Susan, signed with X’s. However, if the story about his sisters’ helping him through school is true, his family must have had an interest in education, perhaps also seeing it as a way out of the rigors of farming and ironworking.
John Purdue said that during his schooling he had become proficient in “the English branches of study,” according to Elmer Anderson (2). It is unclear what this meant, but Purdue’s statement was later widely quoted, with the inference that his English was quite good. The family oral history differs—one story was that he was brought up speaking a German dialect and had difficulty in school at first because the lessons were taught in English. My mother said that he had trouble with his English throughout his life. For example, Kriebel remarked, “Even after all the years living away from the remote Germany Valley, which he pronounced Chermany, Purdue never shook that region’s Deutsch English style, which was still visible in the wording of his letters” (66–67). In addition, members of some German-speaking sects, such as the Amish (a tight-knit religious and ethnic group of Swiss-German ancestry), refer to outsiders as “the English,” and possibly Purdue had simply meant that he had been educated in schools where English was the primary language. Historian Love said that Germany Valley’s original residents were drawn there because its wooded hills resembled Germany, and when the Purdue family had lived there, the neighbors generally spoke German.
Another factor in the formation of John Purdue’s character was the local religion. The 1900 Purdue Debris article included a contemporary snapshot of what might have been the Purdues’ church. Surprisingly, this church, which I now know was the Aughwick-Germany Valley Church of the Brethren, or Dunkard Church, is still there, looking much as it did in the 1900 photograph. However, its cornerstone reads that it was built in 1836, which was after the Purdues left. Historian Love, who is a member, said that before 1836 the congregation met in the nearby Dunkard school and also met in private homes, which were specially built with partitions, or “swinging walls,” that allowed rooms to be enlarged for church meetings. From the churchyard, she could point out two of these rock houses still standing along the rural valley road.
The Dunkards were among the earliest settlers of the Juniata Valley. They arrived around 1755, according to U. J. Jones. They had a fundamentalist outlook and distinctive customs that set them apart. The Dunkards practiced adult baptism by triple immersion (“the dunkers”) and were strict pacifists who opposed oaths and military service. Their absolute trust in God and disdain for the “earthly” are long remembered, because even during retaliatory attacks by the Native Americans against the Europeans, the Dunkards had remained defenseless, saying, “Gottes wille sei gethan” (“God’s will be done”) ( History of the Early Settlement of the Juniata Valley , 212).
The Dunkards would probably most closely resemble today’s Mennonite or Amish sects. Today, a solid wooden rail through the church’s center separates its pews. In those days, women sat on the right and men on the left. Separate doors were built on the east side for each section. Love thought that in the early 1800s, the church’s men and women were sometimes segregated in their lives outside the church as well.
In the church’s graveyard, Love showed me the grave of Christian Long (1771–1848), the church’s founder. As neighbors, friends, and religious leaders, the well-known and educated Long family would have been an important influence on the Purdues. The Long family’s immigrant ancestor, John/Hans Long (born Johannes Lang in 1693 in Zennern, Hesse, Germany), had built the Isaac Long Barn in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Its historical markers say it was here that the first American-born religious denominations began—the Church of the United Brethren in Christ and the United Methodist Church—which were established after the Otterbein-Boehm “Great Meeting” there. John Long’s grandson, Christian, founded the Dunkard Church and became its first minister. He spoke German, and the original services were held in German. The church became so successful that a number of branches formed, and it is now called “a preacher factory.” Three Germany Valley homes, including Christian’s, still have the original swinging walls from the times before the church was built (two are now owned by the Love family). 14
Love thought it highly probable that this had been the Purdue family’s congregation, but she knew of no specific church records for the early 1800s. Don Durnbaugh of Juniata College, who edited the 1983–84 Brethren Encyclopedia , said that the oldest Germany Valley book of congregational business was dated 1847. However, several additional pieces of circumstantial evidence indicate that this was almost certainly the Purdue family’s church. The church was organized in 1802. It was the only one in Germany Valley when the Purdue family lived there, and it is known that members of Purdue’s family had belonged to the Dunkard faith, as reported in the September 14, 1876, Lafayette Daily Courier . In addition, Germany Valley was strongly influenced by the Dunkards; thus they would have influenced the Purdues whether they belonged to the church or not.
Love and Brumbaugh thought that Christian Long’s house was one of the homes in which the Purdue family had attended church services. Deeds to this property, which is located right across from the church, can be traced back to 1804. Today Christian Long’s farmstead is the region’s most modern dairy farm, and his rock house is still in use. Although the school (labeled the Dunkard School on the 1873 map) is no longer standing, several photographs of it remain. The handsome church, built of Blacklog Mountain rocks, is still in use. Its winding staircase leads to an attic containing a massive rock chimney, copper kettles, and rope and spool beds dating from the early 1800s, when people walked to church and often stayed overnight.
Although Purdue liked school and desperately wanted an education, he left school when he was very young. Why did he do this? According to one of Purdue’s first biographers, Purdue University professor George Munro, the Purdues were relatively well off; thus, Purdue could have continued his education. In his 1953 article, “John Purdue,” Munro noted, “There is no evidence that Mary [John’s mother] … was ever short of funds or suffered material hardship.” The Purdue family was “well fed, comfortably housed and had a backlog of savings” (2). Later biographers assumed that this was generally true or have claimed that no detailed information exists about the family’s Pennsylvania years.
However, I discovered that government documents exist for these years, and they show that for John Purdue, these times were incredibly difficult. Because these documents were recorded before standardized spellings (spellings of Purdue have included Pardo, Pardue, Perdew, Partee, Pardee, and Purdum), they have not been previously located. Purdue University professor Knoll and my mother worked with several researchers to retrieve this information. Through correspondence, historians Rachael Y. Black and Jean Harshbarger, who were very knowledgeable about Huntingdon County history and had written articles and books, interpreted these records for them. According to this correspondence, the Purdue family owned nothing during their first decade in Pennsylvania. “Charles Perdue” had one cow in 1804 through 1808 and in 1815. In 1810 he had one horse, and in 1817 through 1819 he had a horse and a cow. In 1820 he had nothing, and by 1822, he had moved onto the land of Simon Logan, whose family was listed with much “unseated” (unsettled) land.
The family’s 1822 move to “unseated” land appears to have been because they were impoverished and unable to pay rent. By this time, the family had worked their rented farm for many years. They also likely labored in the foundries, which involved stuffing furnace stacks with layers of ore, charcoal, and limestone flux. Molten iron was drained from the base into oblong molds (pigs), and then shipped to casting houses and forges. It was low-paid, dangerous, and back-breaking work. Indescribable filth and sooty-black dirt rained down on the workers. When the Rockhill Furnace was flushed at night, flames lit the sky so brightly that people in Shirleysburg four miles away could read newspapers. After years of ironwork, Charles, who was likely between ages sixty-five and seventy in 1822, could have been ill, unable, or too old to do the strenuous work. Perhaps the area foundries had closed, or more modern techniques had displaced the charcoal burners.
Charles Purdue, described by his son John as a poor, hardworking, honest pioneer, again owned one cow for several more years in the 1820s. After what may have been a taxing life in the Old World, an undocumented voyage to the colonies, a move to the harsh frontier, and many more years spent rearing and supporting his family, Charles died about 1827. His daughter, Sarah Purdue, then had the cow, but in 1831 John Prosser (from a neighboring family) owned this cow, probably because he and Sarah Purdue had married.
Although John Purdue’s formal education was cut short, he received an excellent real-world education. The Purdues lived in a unique environment, where history—from the early Native American and pioneer wilderness, through the formation of the United States, to the area’s industrial and business development—still lived. Because Shir-leysburg is an exceptional historical site, enough material remains to enable us to envision young Purdue’s environment and understand how it influenced his later attraction to business, to education, and to America’s expanding frontier.
Purdue would have heard about the country’s frontier government and industrial foundation from the Native Americans and colonial pioneers because of Shirleysburg’s location on the well-traveled “Great Path,” and because the town played a crowning part in both American and world history. Hand-drawn maps and writings from as early as 1749 show that the Great Path ran from the east (Philadelphia), through Shirleysburg, and on to the west, where it connected to trails leading to the Ohio River, the Great Lakes, and the unexplored territory of the continent. The Great Path was considered the only trail to the west and gave Huntingdon County true importance. Although the Path’s main artery ran through Aughwick (“Old Town,” which became Fort Shirley), a tributary crossed Germany Valley.
These trails and place names are the legacy of the area’s original inhabitants, the Iroquois, who called themselves the Onojutta or “Standing Stone People.” The original Standing Stone was a mysterious, fourteen-foot-high, six-inch-square obelisk that was engraved with hieroglyphics and marked the Great Path. The stone stood about fifteen miles north of Fort Shirley, where the Great Path joined the Juniata at the confluence of the Juniata River and Standing Stone Creek. Although many authorities believe the early Native Americans had no writing, some feel that certain groups used picture symbols that resembled writing. This idea is supported by the fact that the Indians venerated this stone and removed it in 1754 as the white population grew. The first Huntingdon County Court House was built where the stone stood. In 1787 the surrounding area became Huntingdon County, although many still called it Standing Stone. The white residents have never found the fabled marker.
Shirleysburg lay on the connector between the colonies and the rest of the continent, and so events of world significance swirled around the Shirleysburg site. By 1753, one of America’s founders and Shirley County’s first white settler, George Croghan, an Irish immigrant, had built a trading post at the point on the Great Path that became Shirleysburg. He had salvaged some of his building materials from cabins left by the area’s first 1740s squatters. The next year, a young Lieutenant Colonel George Washington confronted French forces at nearby Fort Necessity (which Croghan had assisted in building), igniting the French and Indian War. This war created such an impact throughout the world—changing political divisions in Europe, India, and North America—that some called it the First World War.
In 1754, Benjamin Franklin took Croghan with him as an interpreter to the Albany Convention, which Franklin himself had convened. There a treaty was made with the powerful Six Nations of Native Americans, according to Stanley Doyle, which saved the colonies from destruction. On the basis of this treaty, Franklin laid plans for the federation of the colonies, which in 1789 became the federated States of the United States under the Constitution.
Croghan participated in a variety of important ventures across the continent. He was North America’s number-two man in the diplomacy needed to keep the Iroquois on the English side. He did more for the success of British colonization than any other man except his associate Conrad Weiser. (Weiser, a member of the Albany Convention, in 1753 held an important conference at Fort Shirley with Native Americans who were disgruntled with George Washington’s maneuvers at Fort Necessity.) Croghan’s trading expeditions with Native Americans had fanned out into the Ohio countryside long before Daniel Boone entered Kentucky. Croghan had marched with General Edward Braddock, commander of the North America British forces; helped to erect Fort Pitt; and opened the Illinois country by making a treaty with Chief Pontiac. In 1763 at the end of the French and Indian War, Croghan went to England to negotiate the important Indian boundary line. In 1768, he was a member of the Indiana and Illinois Companies and the Grand Ohio Company. Croghan’s writings are considered among the most important historic sources for the years 1745 to 1775, and much has been written about him. (Both Croghan and Weiser knew George Washington and other leaders.)
In 1756 Croghan finished Fort Shirley as one of a chain of frontier defenses of the Province of Pennsylvania during the French and Indian War. Although the fort was tiny (about fifty feet square with blockhouses on two corners, a barracks inside for about fifty men, and an outer wall of upright logs), it continued its participation in momentous, global events. The fort became the point of origin for “the most important single event [other than Braddock’s defeat] … in the British-French contest for mastery of the New World” in August 30, 1756, when Col. John Armstrong set out from Fort Shirley to attack the Indian town of Kittanning, according to Theodore Schreiber ( Shirley’s Times and Places , 45). It was here that France began to lose its grip on the New World. This was also the time during which Fort Shirley was abandoned, for Armstrong took the fort’s gate with him when he left. The war culminated in an English victory, but it set the stage for the American Revolution. Afterward, Pennsylvania became the Keystone State—the birthplace of the nation. Philadelphia’s Independence Hall was its capital until 1800, and it was there that the Declaration of Independence was adopted and George Washington was inaugurated President. The Purdue family lived not only right at the heart of this action, but also in the heart of the iron country, which would soon beget the nation’s industrial age.
Shirleysburg’s story, and indeed, its direct intersection with the Purdues, now shifts to the family of John Purdue’s brother-in-law, the McCammons. Samuel McCammon (1730–1796, approximately) and his wife, Christiana, might be considered among the founders of Shirleysburg, according to John Jordan’s History of the Juniata Valley . On June 13, 1783, the McCammons bought the 212-acre tract encompassing the ruins of the abandoned, overgrown Fort Shirley and parts of Croghan’s log trading post/house. Here, they built their home from the fort’s round logs, probably by just adding them to the Croghan trading post’s remains. Amazingly the old trading post is still there, identified by David Cheslock as a white house that stands by the fort’s site. Although its siding is now that of a frame house, within its walls is a log structure. Mary Kay Brumbaugh’s relatives, who own and renovated the structure, told us that its two-foot-thick west wall was from Croghan’s original building. Another wall of different wood was added later, and Love thought the McCammon family might have added these logs and lived there. 15
Jordan said that next “Samuel McCammon built the first flour mill. The town of Shirleysburg was laid out by Samuel McCammon and [he was] the first to build a school house. He served as a supervisor in 1791” (716). 16 Schreiber said the series of lots the McCammons platted became Shirleysburg’s main street (today’s Route 522/Croghan’s Pike, which with Route 22 roughly follows the old Great Path’s route to Huntingdon). The McCammon’s settlement, with its rich soil, coal, and swift mountain streams needed for its developing iron works, soon drew in other pioneers, including the Purdues, who arrived around 1793.
Samuel McCammon died around October 24, 1796. By May 19, 1819, Christiana McCammon had died, as shown by a document in which a McCammon son-in-law, Jacob Sharer, was appointed administrator of her estate.
Samuel and Christiana McCammon had two daughters, Margaret and Mary, and one son, John, who married Catherine Purdue. The McCammon family carried on several businesses, and Purdue may have begun learning business skills from his brother-in-law’s family. For example, one McCammon daughter, Margaret, married Rodney McKinstry, and their daughter, Esther McKinstry, married Samuel McVitty, who organized the Saltillo Baptist Church and formed a partnership with William Leas of Shirleysburg. Samuel McVitty and William Leas were instrumental in bringing the railroad from Mount Union to the nearby Broad Top coal region, and together they built a large shoe and boot-sole leather tannery named Leas & McVitty. Samuel and Margaret McVitty’s daughter married Calvin H. Greene, who bought one of their tanneries and renamed it Calvin Greene & Son. It was said to have been the largest tannery in the United States at that time. Doyle called it “the most imposing concern of its kind in the country” (24).
In 1815 the McCammons helped to set up another log school-house north of their home, to be used as a school and a church. According to J. Simpson Africa, in History of Huntingdon and Blair Counties, Pennsylvania , the school became an important meetinghouse for the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians. The article “Old Times in Shirley” contains an account of the impact of these meetings as described by the clerk of the Centre Baptist Association: “[N]ews of the meeting spread and people were seen long before sundown wending their way to the schoolhouse. The windows were taken out & people crowded the doorway & windows … forty-five persons united with the church” (3). Because the school was located along the trails into Shirleysburg, Purdue would have watched this school/church as it was built. Perhaps he attended it. He would have noted its importance to the community.
John Purdue’s last years in Pennsylvania were a time of great difficulty. The Purdue family had moved into the backwoods and may have been homeless. Eventually during these years they came to a major decision—to move to Ohio. I wanted to explore why they decided to move, and I wondered whether any more information existed about their life in the late 1820s. I discovered this additional material in the records of my great-great-grandparents, Catherine (Purdue) and her husband John McCammon. 17 John and Catherine McCammon lived about two miles southwest of the Purdue cabin by the home of Abraham Long, a brother of Dunkard Church founder Christian Long. 18
Because John McCammon was the only son of a town founder and his family had originally owned the area’s land, he could have been the wealthiest person in the area. After Samuel McCammon’s death, John, as the only male, might have owned the McCammon property and might have begun to receive rent from the Shirleysburg lots. Because the Purdues were having considerable financial trouble, Catherine and John McCammon might have helped them. However, the records show that on January 5, 1821, John McCammon had conveyed to William Harvey, a cousin, 19 one-third of all real estate that had belonged to his father. On September 21, 1824, Catherine (Purdue) McCammon relinquished administrative authority for their property to Jacob Sharer, husband of Mary McCammon, and James Oliver. In January 1827, Catherine petitioned the court for a guardian, and Abraham Long was appointed for their boys.
Although Catherine (Purdue) McCammon should have been in a position to inherit property from the McCammon family, records suggest that the McCammon family had prevented her from receiving her share of the family’s inheritance. For example, historian Jean Harshbarger, in a personal letter to my mother, remarked that as soon as Long was appointed guardian, he petitioned the court (in January 1827) to settle the John McCammon estate. Harshbarger added, “[S]o they would seem to have been stalling & I suspect John [Mc-Cammon] had died at least a year earlier.” Glynn McCalman wrote that Long had petitioned the court nearly a dozen times over more than a decade to force Oliver and Sharer to fulfill their administrative responsibilities, but he had been unsuccessful. In 1838 the court decided that Oliver and Sharer were not responsible for the administration of rents. There is no record that Catherine inherited anything from the McCammons. (However, it appears that other relatives had inherited some of the McCammon land. For example, when the Borough of Shirleysburg was incorporated in 1836 and 1837, land owned by several families, who may have been McCammon relatives or in-laws, was in the description. Some of this land likely came from the original McCammon tract.)
Perhaps because of these events and Charles’s 1827 death, the Purdue family, except for Sarah, left for Ohio. Sarah Purdue was the only family member listed in the local 1830 census. Charles Purdue left no estate. Because the Purdues owned no land, Charles was probably a farm helper who likely lived in a tenant house, according to historian Rachael Black. Tenant burials were often made on farms, not in cemeteries, which may be the reason why no Purdue burial markers have been found. Additional information indicates that a baby born around 1808 died in infancy. One of the Purdue sisters, who appears not to have been married, had a baby around 1822. In addition, the record of Abraham Long’s guardianship of the McCammon boys also shows how well the Purdues knew and trusted the Long family. The fact that the Long family spoke German implies that Catherine could also speak some German, and Long’s strong support of Catherine against some of the McCammon relatives or in-laws further suggests that the Purdue family belonged to the Dunkard Church. 20 , 21
Thus, enough background material exists to show that, as in the case of many immigrants, a wide economic disparity existed between the Purdues and their near neighbors. Several neighbors who came from wealthy European families were able to start out well in the New World. The Longs, McVittys, McCammons (who were Buchanan clan descendants), and McKinstrys (an aristocratic family from Ireland) had sizable real estate holdings. Several had set up companies, developed towns, and brought great changes to the area. In contrast, there was no record of public service or participation in civic activities by the Purdues.
This disparity probably resulted in considerable social barriers. For example, the McCammon’s legal maneuverings suggest that Catherine (Purdue) McCammon was being cut off financially. Abraham Long’s lengthy efforts to help her indicate that he thought she had not been dealt with fairly. Because illiteracy was part of her problem, the Purdues would have realized the value of education. Because the McCammons were in-laws and should have helped, Catherine’s trouble could also suggest that the Purdue family may have not been treated as well as others by their wealthier neighbors.
It is quite possible that they were looked down upon, or even harassed.
Because the area where the Purdues lived is a historical site, much of their world lingers today. Standing Stone was of great importance to Native Americans, and several tribes were named after it. The stone itself—possibly a tablet containing either sacred writings similar to the Israelites’ Ten Commandments or a tribal history—was prominently located near the Juniata River to mark the way into the continent’s interior. Travel continued on the Great Path until a new trail following the road Washington had blazed on his way to Fort Necessity was cut for Braddock’s army. Eventually this trail became the first part of the National Road (today’s Route 40 and Interstate 70), which Washington brought into existence to unite the country as it expanded westward. The road both followed and created the nation’s frontier—it had a transformative power that not only rolled across the nation, creating the frontier, but eventually this American frontier recreated the world. The Juniata River Watershed is part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which still encompasses the nation’s capital and other prominent centers of influence.
Today’s historical markers, including a 12’ × 5’ × 1’ time-stained monolith and a row of stones believed to be a portion of Fort Shirley’s wall, show the fort’s original location. The fort can also be seen in the Fort Shirley Society’s drawings and models. A large red brick house built by the Leas family occupies its original site and is now a private home. The old Croghan/McCammon home is still in its original location to the west and is occupied by Mary Kay Brumbaugh’s descendants. Right across Fort Run to the north is a small graveyard, the Shirleysburg Old Baptist Cemetery, which is probably on land the McCammons donated to the church. It is said to be the only graveyard in the country with a railroad track running through it (the East Broad Top Railroad, though this portion is now unused). Catherine Purdue’s sisters-in-laws, Margaret McKinstry and Mary Sharer, their families, and others named in my family’s Purdue-McCammon correspondence were interred there, including members of the McVitty, Harvey, Jamison, Galbraith, Leas, Harrison, and Fraker families. Settlers used a high rocky ledge across from the graveyard for shooting practice from the fort. Because of its view of this ledge, the Leas home, which was later used as a school, was called the Rockview Academy.
The East Broad Top Railroad, founded by McVitty and Leas, is now a popular tourist attraction. People can still take rides on this narrow-gauge railroad in a steam-powered train. A Department of Interior National Park Service marker designates it as a Registered National Historic Landmark. Its trains, track, yards, roadhouse, and stations remain intact and are said to be the most complete and authentic historic rail site in North America. The Broad Top area Coal Miners Museum and Entertainment Center is open year-round. A stone house built by the Sharer (Sharrer) family in Mt. Union, Pennsylvania, is now a museum. Greenwood Furnace is the county’s most complete and best-preserved iron furnace site open to the public. It contains furnace stacks and a reconstructed charcoal-burner’s hut. Books have been written about Conrad Weiser and George Croghan.

I had discovered a great deal in Pennsylvania about John Purdue. I believe his character was forged during these Pennsylvania years. He was brought up in a highly fundamentalist home and church environment, but had spent his childhood watching grueling labor wear down the ironworkers. Charles’s slow death was made worse by the indignity of homelessness, and his body and that of his baby were placed in unmarked holes somewhere in Pennsylvania. With John’s family homeless and hungry, people may have tried to take advantage of his sisters, perhaps even trusted family friends or community leaders. Those the Purdues had looked to for help wound up taking what little money they had.
Many years later John Purdue was recognized for his giving nature, hard work, and discipline. His philanthropy probably arose from first-hand experience with poverty. He was noted as impeccably honest, a characteristic most likely grown from his religious upbringing and from seeing his family treated unfairly. John’s interest in education probably reflected Catherine Purdue McCammon’s experiences, family and community interests, and possibly a Huguenot heritage. He had watched people build towns, businesses, and industries and soon would have realized the importance of trade, transportation, and manufacturing. Because of the area’s historic significance, he likely met and exchanged ideas with some of the country’s founding families. Later he was noted for his belief in education and industrial automation, both of which represented a way out of grinding poverty. I imagine that his family’s social experiences made him sensitive to the barriers against the poor and the prejudice that demeans them. I see his schoolroom writing, “Evil communications corrupt good manners,” as a demonstration of a conflict between action and appearance, and as prophetic because the Purdue family’s circumstances would have made him question the teachings by which he was raised. Perhaps he had deliberately saved the page as a reminder, because this conflict showed up many times throughout his life. He likely had an abiding anger against some of the wealthy people he knew while, at the same time, he aspired to become wealthy, and make a significant contribution himself.
Because he had experienced tragedy and humiliation when he was young, he took on the stoic, withdrawn personality of those who overcome great adversity but do not spend a lot of time talking about it. As Robert Topping wrote in A Century and Beyond , “Growing up in those times, Purdue and his contemporaries took on as personal qualities many of the same traits that eventually gave dimension to the character of the new, evolving nation” (35). Although times in Pennsylvania had been rough, Purdue stayed in contact with some Shirleysburg families for the rest of his life. And through the unique circumstances of his birth, Purdue’s life became interwoven with that of the country.
Ohio Legends and Facts: Whisler and Marion, Ohio, and Michigan
By 1827, the Purdue family was destitute. Charles had died, the family had left their log cabin for the backwoods, and the small amount of available work was brutish and dangerous.
I visualized John Purdue’s mother, Mary—who had given birth to ten children, just lost her husband, and was in her sixties—facing westward across the harsh Pennsylvania landscape. She must have seen a horrific barefoot walk for mile after unknown mile to a strange land in an unforgiving frontier. Her willingness to take her young family on such an arduous journey, when seen in conjunction with what we know about the Purdue family’s economic situation, suggests that desperation drove her from Pennsylvania. John, as the only male present, probably felt responsible for the family and may have even promised his dying father that he would look after them. At any rate, the decision to move would be difficult.
The published accounts of Purdue’s journey to and time in Ohio are as nebulous as those about his Pennsylvania life. 1 But again, my intuition sensed that Purdue was trying to tell me something—to go to Ohio’s Adelphi region, to which the Purdues are said to have traveled, and see for myself.
The people I interviewed there thought that the family had taken the historic primary route into Ohio—Zane’s Trace—which passes just north of Adelphi. In 1796 Ebenezer and Jonathan Zane were hired by Congress to mark the route of an Indian Trail from Wheeling, West Virginia, to Maysville, Kentucky, a section of which later became part of the National Road. Many Pennsylvanians, especially its German-speaking settlers, moved westward along this trail. Ebenezer’s great-grandson was the famous western writer Zane Grey, and Zanesville, Ohio, is named after the family. Parts of the old highway and even its obelisk mile markers—reminiscent of Standing Stone—remain, some still in use.
The Purdue family’s trip through these forested hills took several weeks or even months, according to oral history from Purdue family descendants. 2 The trip was made during the summer. Nancy Purdue became ill in the terrible summer heat, and the pioneers were forced to set up camp for three weeks. Then Nancy died. Her body was buried in an unmarked grave among the tangled plants and trees along the trail.
But did they all leave Pennsylvania together, as some historians have claimed?
They did not.
Margaret Purdue Haymaker’s obituary reads that she married John Haymaker in 1823, moved to Ohio in 1824, and settled in Plain Township, Franklin County. The History of Delaware County and Ohio records that John Prosser and Sarah Purdue Prosser arrived in Ohio in 1837. Catherine Purdue McCammon joined them in 1865, according to the family correspondence.
Spoken recollection has it that the remaining Purdue family’s destination had been Adelphi, a town once described as so small that today it is found on few road maps. It is situated in a rustic region of quaint place names—Kreachbaum Ridge, Brimstone and Kinnikinnick Creeks, Spud Run, Tar and Slickaway Hollows, Rattlesnake Knob, Wynkoop Road, and Grandma Gateway Trail—reflecting both its Native American and pioneer heritage.
I soon discovered why such a nondescript town had been their goal. Adelphi, in the northeast corner of Ross County in south-central Ohio, is perched on the edge of the Appalachian foothills overlooking Ohio’s rolling, central lands and the nearby town of Whisler, about four miles northwest. It is Colerain Township’s principal town, one of its oldest, and in Purdue’s day it was a focal place because its location just south of Zane’s Trace made it a stopping-off place for travelers.
Moreover, I discovered that as the Purdues followed the frontier, they moved from one capital area to another. They were now near Chillicothe, which had been the capital of the Shawnee nation before the Revolutionary War. The town afterward became the capital of the Northwest Territory, and in 1803 it became the first capital of Ohio.
Adelphi, laid out in 1804 and named after the sacred city of the Greeks, Delphi, prided itself in its schools and culture. Near it are rich iron and lead deposits, mineral springs, saltpeter, and salt. By the late 1700s, its resources began to draw people from such places as Pennsylvania, Switzerland, and Amsterdam. Even before the town was laid out, its Old Lutheran cemetery had been established by Berks County, Pennsylvania, settlers, according to Lyle Evans. Among the suppositions made about the Purdues is that Charles Purdue actually died after the family arrived in Adelphi, but no Purdues by any spelling are found in the area’s cemetery records.
Because Adelphi was a prominent town in the early 1800s, had good schools, and was near an iron region, perhaps John Purdue, who was by then about twenty-five years old, had planned to stay and support his family there. But the Purdues did not remain in Adelphi, and perhaps they were run out of town. For example, a July 31, 1865, piece, “John Purdue of Lafayette, Ind.,” in The New York Daily Tribune , related that Purdue was once warned out of a township because he was so poor it was feared he might become a town charge. Maybe this was that township. Perhaps he was warned to leave the relatively prosperous Colerain Township, and so he moved north.
An obscure, anonymous, 1936 newspaper clipping, “How John Purdue Began Career as an Educator” in the Republican , 3 contains information about the next part of Purdue’s life. (This clipping has been mostly discounted because it does not fit other popular accounts. For example, it told of Purdue journeying to Michigan in the 1820-30s, when he is generally thought to have lived in Ohio.) The source is an untitled article by Esther O’Keefe, who based her narrative on an oral account from the granddaughter of LeGrand Anderson, a Decatur, Michigan, pioneer. She said that LeGrand had lived in Circleville, Ohio, where he was active in civic affairs and served as moderator of the school board.
According to this article, one afternoon in the summer of 1827 a young man called on LeGrand Anderson at his Ohio home. This man, in typical hobo or bum attire, carried a stick over his shoulder and from it hung a small bundle tied in a bandana handkerchief. He said his name was John Purdue and that he had come to apply “for the school.” After further conversation, Anderson noted Purdue’s alert mind and thorough preparation, and suggested that he find a boarding place. “Mr. Anderson,” replied Purdue, “all in the world that I have is 25 cents in my pocket and the belongings tied up in that bundle.” Anderson offered to board Purdue himself in return for farm chores, and Purdue remained with the family for five years.
I found some support for this story in the biography of Benjamin Murdock as it appeared in O. W. Rowland’s A History of Van Buren County, Michigan . Murdock was married to Anderson’s daughter, Mary Victoria, and he says that in Ohio her first tutor was “Professor John Purdue, the founder of Purdue University at Lafayette, Indiana” (651). He adds that Anderson came to look over Michigan in 1828 and decided to settle near Decatur. In 1832 he brought his family and several Ohio families with him, whom he induced to settle in the same neighborhood.
Based on Murdock’s account, I wondered if Purdue had indeed known LeGrand Anderson in Ohio and taught Mary Anderson. To learn more, I searched for records for the Anderson family’s specific location in Ohio. I found that they had lived east of Whisler in Salt Creek Township, about fifteen miles southeast of Circleville and about five miles northwest of Adelphi. 4 Old maps show a house on this property located north of the Whisler Road near its Pike Hole Creek crossing. Local historian Robert Bower said that a lane there could have led to the Anderson home. Trees and a root cellar are still visible on the property. Another confirmation of Anderson’s location is that several other local residents knew the family, and some descendants of LeGrand Anderson and his siblings remained on the farm until 2001. Thus, Purdue likely arrived on Anderson’s doorstep in Ohio the summer after his father died, in about 1827.
According to O’Keefe’s story, Purdue told Anderson that he had come to apply as a schoolteacher. Almost nothing is known about Purdue’s teaching career, but based on that newspaper account and what I had learned about the Anderson family, we can make some assumptions. Purdue could have taught Mary Anderson in Ohio between 1827 and 1831: the years, location, and timing fit. Given that, it is even possible to make a reasonable guess as to the school where he taught. According to Robert Bower, only one school has ever been listed for the Whisler area during that period: the Whisler School, a one-room log schoolhouse, twenty-four feet by twelve feet, built in 1805. In Purdue’s day it was located by Whisler Road, west of Anderson’s home. Later it was moved—twice—and today the building still exists as the framework of a yellow house in the north part of Whisler.
Purdue made ten dollars per month as a pedagogue, according to the The New York Daily Tribune piece. This work was tougher than we might imagine. Henry Holcomb Bennett says that school was conducted on the subscription plan and covered only the “three R’s.” The “master” taught twenty-two days each month and boarded with neighbors (in Purdue’s case, with LeGrand Anderson). The master was often chosen for his muscle rather than his brains, because pioneer boys could be unruly; a popular prank was smoking out the teacher by placing boards over the chimney. The textbooks generally consisted of one arithmetic and one spelling book. Bennett added that “full dress” in those days was buckskin over a flax shirt and moccasins (246).
Purdue once told an acquaintance that these were the happiest years of his life, but no one could believe him because of his paltry salary. But Purdue was young and felt at the time that teaching was his calling. He had arrived in Ohio homeless, and the LeGrand Anderson home was the first true house he had ever lived in. Perhaps this was the only time he lived with a family—for he had been hired out in Pennsylvania while still a boy and mostly lived alone in hotels in his later years. It may have been his first exposure to an educated, talkative family. The Andersons, whose ancestors came from Amsterdam, Holland, were cultured and had been among the first families of Virginia. Two of George Washington’s nephews once lived with Le-Grand’s family (a later son was christened George Washington Anderson), and James Fennimore Cooper was a family friend. The Andersons had taken Purdue in as a member of their family. Daughter Mary Victoria was four when Purdue began teaching, and he carried her to and from school every day. LeGrand spent three years exploring the Midwest before deciding to relocate in Michigan, and perhaps Purdue had played a part in heading the household while he was gone.
Purdue would have learned much here. The area brimmed with interesting sights, including world-famous Native American earthworks. South of Adelphi is the beautiful area used on the Great Seal of the State of Ohio. And near Adelphi is the Logan Elm Tree, where Chief Logan in 1774 delivered a bitter lament for his betrayal by the whites and the slaughter of his family. 5
The lively Anderson family no doubt had a great impact on Purdue and quite possibly was the source of the apprenticeship stories associated with his early Ohio years. Charles Schmidt, in a 1976 Journal and Courier article, related that Purdue became a boarder in the home of a well-to-do farmer, who paid him for doing chores before and after school. Myron Seifert wrote that the Purdue family “migrated to Adelphi, Ohio, where John learned to do farm chores” (“Purdue Fortune,” 4A). Johnny Jones, a reporter known for his homespun style who wrote a series of articles in the Columbus Dispatch , added that Purdue especially liked the animals.
On August 27, 1830, Anderson sold his farm to his next-door neighbor, Christopher Holderman. Purdue likely accompanied the Andersons to Decatur, Michigan, and began teaching there. Topping related that Purdue was recommended by the president of Ohio University for a teaching job in 1831 at Little Prairie, south of Decatur, in Van Buren County, Michigan, and taught there for a part of that year.
But not long afterward, Purdue decided to return to Ohio.
O’Keefe further told that when Purdue left the Andersons, the parting was wrenching. Anderson felt the affection of a brother for Purdue: “They endeavored to persuade him to locate in southern Michigan. … Unashamed of the tears that streamed down their cheeks, these two men between whom there existed so unusual a friendship said goodbye.”
“You are the best friend any man ever had,” were John Purdue’s words. “I want you to know that whatever wealth I may accumulate is to go to your children on my death.”
“No, no, my dear young friend,” said the older man. “As you know I have been blessed with enough of this world’s goods to insure an education and a comfortable living for the members of my family. Enough is enough. If you should acquire a competency let it be used to give opportunity for education to other youths of the land.”

Purdue probably felt he should remain close to his own family and moved back to the Columbus, Ohio, area, as Johnny Jones mentioned and Purdue’s land deeds testify. By now Purdue had experience in teaching and farming—including the techniques of farming the prairies—and had been saving his money. His family, however, was having considerable trouble. Soon after he left the Andersons, Purdue bought a farm located between Plain Township in Franklin County, Ohio, where his family lived, and Van Buren County, Michigan. Elmer Anderson said the farm, a quarter section in Marion County, was bought for nine hundred dollars. Purdue paid half down and received three years’ credit without interest on the balance. 6
I went to Marion to look for Purdue’s deed and find his farm. Purdue’s 160 acres was located in the northeast quarter of Section 31 of Salt Rock Township. John Purdue, whose address on the deed was Franklin County, bought it on March 13, 1831. Purdue immediately moved to Marion County and began farming. Much of Purdue’s farm, a flat area containing one small stream, had once been forest, but today it is cleared farmland owned by the Sims family. Although the Sims have lived in the area for a century, when I made contact with them I found they did not know about Purdue’s previous ownership, nor did other families who have lived there even longer. The Killdeer Plains State Wildlife Area, where bald eagles, egrets, swans, and many rare species can be seen soaring in the wind as they did in Purdue’s day, lies just north of the farm site.
Like others in the Midwest, Purdue’s neighbors principally cultivated grain; but it was difficult for them to market their crops. A lucrative outlet for their grain soon opened up, however—as hog feed. Before the railroads arrived, people called drovers escorted these hogs to eastern markets. These journeys were long and tedious, and hogs are notoriously pig-headed—difficult to drive and take across rivers.
According to Elmer Anderson, during Purdue’s first autumn on the farm, his neighbors wanted him to purchase their four hundred hogs. He told them that he did not have any money. Young Purdue must have appeared trustworthy, because the neighbors then asked him to be their drover. A variety of researchers have concluded that he took the hogs to either New York or Cincinnati. But, according to Trella Romine’s History of Marion County , Purdue’s destination was the Lake Erie ports for shipment east. He made over three hundred dollars, paid the farmers, and gained his first experience in the commission business. The lesson was obvious: he made more money in a few weeks than he would have made in a year of teaching.
Purdue must have been very enterprising even then, for, as Charlton Myers notes in his Tales from the Sage of Salt Rock of Marion County , within a year and a half, Purdue had improved his quarter section enough to sell it for more than a 33-percent gain. On August 20, 1832, John Purdue of Marion County sold his farm for $1,200 to Christopher Holderman, making $300 in profit; hence, Purdue’s profit from the entire venture, including his land sale and drover work, was about $600. The sale to Holderman, who lived on the neighboring Whisler area farm, suggests that Purdue had returned to Whisler.

By 1832 Purdue had probably lived near Whisler, Ohio; Marion, Ohio; and Decatur, Michigan. The Andersons had had considerable influence on him. He appeared to have taken LeGrand Anderson’s kindness to heart, for he was later noted for his own generous aid to young people just starting out. He had experienced teaching, farming, and the lucrative commission and real-estate businesses.
Although he may have still longed to be a teacher, he was supporting relatives who were having an extremely difficult time, a situation that must have motivated him toward a life in business—which paid much better than farming or teaching. His first experience selling pork was valuable, too. He continued in this business and rose to spectacular success during the Civil War as a merchant of western products, particularly pork. Dirt-poor Purdue had big plans.
His promise to distribute any wealth that he might accumulate was prescient. His great aspirations would one day make him a fortune—which he already planned to give away.
“Deep layed [sic] crimes hide their odious heads in day haunt the seats of Society at night when they think all is safe that no eye sees,” wrote John Purdue to a Miss Ann Knauere in Columbus, Ohio, on December 29, 1836. 1 This letter contains a somewhat pontifical essay on why single women should avoid staying alone with men at night. He further advised her to “Recollect few men are what they profess to be.” As I began my search to understand this period in Purdue’s life, I wondered why he seemed so suspicious. I also wondered who Miss Knauere was. Was she the daughter of a business associate or a friend of his family? Could she have been a romantic interest?

Purdue’s Ohio years were some of the most important in his life—he set up his first business, made some life-long personal associations, undertook new family responsibilities, and perhaps even had a star-crossed romance. Some have described Purdue during the 1830s as an itinerate merchant who for fifteen years rode from one small settlement to another and left few tracks. However, I was surprised to literally find many of his tracks in the form of documents in the local libraries and government offices, including the “day book” of his business transactions. 2 These and the other new materials allowed me to flesh out his life during these years. As evidenced by an 1834 land deed, Purdue operated a general merchandise store, said to be built in the style of the times: square-hewn logs with the cracks filled with chinking.
John Purdue’s first business was a general merchandise store in Adelphi, Ohio.

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